By on June 26, 2018

2019 Honda Insight - Image: Honda

Attractive. Well received. A winner on paper. Technologically advanced. Badged with a logo that keeps producing record sales numbers.

One would assume that this is all that’s needed for the Honda Insight to be a raging marketplace success, at least in 1999.

1999 this is most certainly not, which highlights one glaring problem: the 2019 Insight is an attractive, well-received, impressive-on-paper, technologically-advanced Honda sedan.

Sedan. Sedan? Yes, sedan.

2000 Honda Insight - Image: HondaTo be fair to the first-generation Honda Insight, there was never any intention for the Honda hybrid of late 1999 to become a volume seller. There was the two-seat nature, the single-minded focus on fuel economy, the cost impact of an aluminum structure, and the oddball wheel skirts.

Still, the roughly 14,000 Insights sold in the U.S. during the first-gen’s tenure shows how far Honda was from the mainstream.2012 Honda Insight LX - Image: HondaBy the time the second Insight arrived in 2009, America’s hybrid market bore no resemblance to the market the Insight created nearly a decade prior. It wasn’t just a far more successful version of its direct rival, the Toyota Prius, which was 25 times more common in 2009 than in 2000, that limited the second Insight’s success. There were also rivals such as Honda’s own Civic Hybrid and hybrid variants of popular cars such as the Toyota Camry. The mere existence of competitors curtailed second-generation Insight popularity; so too did the Insight’s incapacity to live up to the Toyota Prius, both on paper and on the road.

Honda sold only 73,000 copies of the second-gen Insight in the U.S. between 2009 and 2017, when leftovers were still leaving showrooms. Over 1 million copies of the core Prius sold during the same timeframe.

But what if the second-gen Insight – rather than being unattractive, critically dismissed, a loser on paper and technologically rather ordinary – was a generally handsome, well-regarded, Prius-baiting four-door?

In that case, Honda would have sold far more than 73,000 Insights, and Toyota likely wouldn’t have sold more than 1 million Prii.

Fast forward to the latter stages of 2018, however, and the new Insight’s quality components and bodywork and $23,725 price point (the Prius starts at $25,640) may not be enough to overcome major anti-car headwinds.2016 Toyota Prius - Image: ToyotaLook to the latest Prius’s own fall from grace as an example of what the new Insight might encounter. The latest (admittedly stylistically-challenged) Prius is by all accounts the best Prius. Yet U.S. Prius volume has fallen by more than half since 2013.

Honda hasn’t declared exactly how many Insights the company plans to sell in the U.S. AutoPacific forecasts 29,000 Insight sales in the U.S. in 2019, 38-percent more than the second-generation Insight managed at its peak but less than half the figure the Prius produced last year.2018 Accord Sport 2.0-Liter Turbo - Image: HondaIt won’t be easy to reach even those modest expectations. Honda’s latest Accord is likewise a vastly improved sedan, but Honda is selling 14-percent fewer new Accords than the company sold old Accords a year ago. In fact, Honda is on track for 277,000 Accord sales in 2018, 111,000 fewer Accords than Honda sold in 2014 and the lowest Accord total since 2011.

The Insight is entering a market where its most direct rival is fading and where its firmly-established big brother is losing momentum. Honda finally figured out what the Insight should be, yet the prevailing climate is producing decidedly unfavorable conditions.

Or, could it be that the Insight’s slippery aerodynamics will pay no mind to the headwinds?

[Images: Honda]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

37 Comments on “Is the New Honda Insight the Perfect Honda Hybrid Two Decades Too Late?...”


  • avatar
    brettc

    I don’t understand why Honda didn’t engineer a hybrid CR-V, Pilot, or Odyssey for sale in NA. Seems like that’s the market to be in now with a hybrid since people love their unibody family trucksters.

    I’m sure the new Insight will sell, but probably not what they expect.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I was literally thinking the same thing. The technology is fantastic and proven to be reliable. Yet, the engineers keep insisting on packaging the technology into the style of car the public seems to have moved away from.

      This drivetrain in the 3 CUV’s would seemingly sell very well.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      Those vehicles are all prized for their space efficiency and storage. Adding a battery pack would compromise that.

      Honda did show a hybrid CR-V at the Geneva show earlier this year, so maybe one is indeed coming.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        These vehicles are all much bigger than the sedans they are based on. There’s plenty of room for a 1.5 or so kWh battery pack. The electric motors take no room out of the interior.

        • 0 avatar
          cammark

          I agree with sportyaccordy. Even considering the amount of usable space there is inside these vehicles (Odyssey, Pilot, CRV…) when you look underneath there is a good amount of open space. enough at least for the components of their hybrid system.

          • 0 avatar
            brandloyalty

            The only loss of space on the Escape Hybrid was a small bin under the cargo area floor.

            Another factor is that the gas tank can be smaller, which it is on the Escape Hybrid. It still has more range though.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      A prototype Pilot hybrid was spotted in camo earlier this month, likely using the MDX Sport Hybrid’s setup. There are rumors of the Odyssey getting this setup with the option of electric AWD.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Insight looks good to me, but I just wish they’d have given it some more balls. I was going to suggest the Accord Hybrid as a competitor, but the ones on lots are loaded with very little discounts. However, the Civic EX-T

    – costs less (they are pretty well discounted at the moment)
    – has balls
    – only costs ~$350/yr more in fuel at current prices ($3/gal on FuelEconomy.gov)

    Back when a compact car was lucky to break 30 MPG combined a hybrid returning mileage in the high 40s was a big deal. Now with regular compact cars being so efficient we are entering the realm of diminishing returns.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      True. $25k gets you pretty much all the Civic you could want, and not too shabby economy.

      And if you were willing to stretch the budget for toys or comfort or power, what case does this car make for itself against a $30k-ish hybrid mid-sizer?

      So the market is, people who absolutely demand a hybrid powertrain, don’t want or need 200+ inches of car, and who hate the Prius?

      • 0 avatar
        Whittaker

        “So the market is, people who absolutely demand a hybrid powertrain, don’t want or need 200+ inches of car, and who hate the Prius?”

        Uber & Lyft drivers?

      • 0 avatar
        volvo

        I may be a market of one but I would like a Genesis G80 about 15 inches shorter. I am not wedded to a hybrid or EV but for the time being will pass on turbos.

        So for me
        1. Looks adult and is less than 185 inches long.
        2. Normally aspirated engine
        3. Less than $50K fully equipped.
        4. All the current safety nannies (I realize I won’t get 360 degree camera at this price point).

        I haven’t found one yet but this new Insight might fit the bill. Have to see the build and specs when they become available.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      Re: loaded hybrid mid sizers … It’s true, they’re more common on the ground than hybrids in lower trims. The latest generation of hybrid powertrains all prioritized the torque and NVH control from the electric motor, and the buyers tend to want other luxury trimmings to harmonize with those virtues. Certainly that’s part of how I ended up in my Malibu Hybrid.

      So if you carry the thinking down a size, this isn’t a Prius-fighter but a poor-man’s Model 3.

  • avatar
    Zipster

    This car has everything except what most buyers of hybrids require, a hatchback. Honda will lose many buyers, including me, because of this very stupid decision.

  • avatar
    ant

    do these have direct injection?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Captain Planet types probably wouldn’t like an Insight CUV, it would blend in too much. The new Insight is a nice looking car but that may hurt sales, it doesn’t have the usual quirkiness that signals virtue and that’s key in this segment.

  • avatar
    earthwateruser

    I would suggest that the new Insight will do quite well once it hits the dealer lots and buyers see it sitting next to Accords and Civics. In my subjective opinion, it looks much nicer than both of those cars. Although it is smaller than the Accord, it may have enough room for that not to matter given the much better MPG offered over both the Civic and the regular Accord. Indeed, I think Accord sales have been negatively impacted by the awkward front end styling. I haven’t heard anyone say it looks great. The Insight addresses that wart that and gives great mileage to boot.

    • 0 avatar
      tnk479

      I agree. I wish they would put the Civic Turbo motor in this paired to a 7 or 8 speed transmission. It wouldn’t be cheap. It wouldn’t be luxury. It would be just right. I guess that’s what the next Acura ILX will be.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Went to Honda website

    It is at this time it is a “future vehicle” without any specs or detailed pricing.

    Pictures look good and I would be interested if it was
    1. Under 190 inches long
    2. Has a full suite of electronic nannies and other decent amenities.
    3. They have improved the drivetrain over the jerky one I experienced in a Civic hybrid rental a few years ago (I think on that one the gas/electric motors were in series rather than parallel like the Prius).

    Thought I was interested in a G80 until I saw one in person. Incredible car and not too garish. Very reasonably priced but (at 196 inch length) just too large. I still haven’t found a small luxury non-sports sedan for sale in the US. Yes I am aware of the A4, BMW 3 and MBZ C series but by the time they are fully equipped you are looking at $55K+.

    Why so picky. Well having to battle small street and garage parking spaces in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco I really don’t would like my car to be 185 inches or less.

    I look forward to seeing how the “touring” model is optioned

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      If you can wait, and I suspect your username might like this – Polestar 2 coming out in 2019, sedan shaped but a hatchback fastback. Hybrid. Uses XC40 platform, so around that size – will sit below the S60.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      What about the Audi A3?

      • 0 avatar
        volvo

        I hadn’t considered the A3 because of a probably irrational aversion to small displacement turbo engines. But everyone says the reliability of these have improved and it looks like it would meet my other criteria and be under $40K OTD. Thanks for the suggestion

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Why the turbo hate? Small turbo engines have been around and robust for quite some time now.

          And as an ex-NYCer I understand the car length obsession. If you’re going to play that game you might as well go all the way and get a hatchback. A loaded Mazda3 is worth a look, though I think it would be irresponsible not to check out the Golf TSI, Elantra GT and if you can stomach the looks the Civic hatchback.

          • 0 avatar
            volvo

            My unease with small displacement turbos is due to a number of factors.

            1. More parts to break. If each part has the same MTBF then an 8 part assembly will have a greater probability of early failure than a 3 part assembly.
            2. More stress on the engine
            3. Turbos usually spec more expensive gasoline (where I live premium is about 10% more than regular unleaded). Yes you can run lower octane but the computer will dial back the performance to inhibit pre ignition.

            I believe these engines were developed to allow higher HP/Torque in a market where sales tax and registration expense is linked to engine displacement. I used to think that Honda was the “engine” company however today Toyota seems to be doing a very good job in producing powerful and efficient normally aspirated engines

            Camry I4 2.5L 205hp combined MPG 34 regular gas
            A3 turbo 4 2.0L 186hp combined MPG 29 premium/regular gas
            S60 turbo 4 2.0L 240hp combined MPG 29 premium gas

            And I prefer a trunk rather than a hatchback since it makes it easier to keep things out of sight something that is sadly needed in today’s urban environment.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Going off your screen name, what’s wrong with the new S60?

      • 0 avatar
        volvo

        I haven’t seen one but the specs look OK. I see on the website they have a turbo 4 which is not an attraction to me. I have trouble gleaning information on the Volvo USA auto website. Probably will have to go into a Volvo store.

        Living in a smaller geographically isolated town we have no MBZ/BMW/Audi/Volvo/Hyundai/Kia/Chevy dealers within 30 miles.

        As for the screen name my ownership of Volvos stopped with the end of red block production

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Insight needs a different name. It needs to be a CRV sized SUV. Lastly, Honda needs someone who styles nice looking cars across the entire line. That would solve all their problems.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Don’t forget the competition in the Accord Hybrid and Clarity within their own showrooms!

    So 3 hybrid sedans in a dying sedan and hybrid market… Uh huh.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    The car looks sharp. I put in for an email when it’s ready. Hopefully the sport mode is actually engaging. The economy’s been good; I got rid of the fleet of cars a while back to drive one vehicle every day; it might make for an extremely pleasant summer commuting car. The price point is quite fetching. Hopefully it’s not like the CRZ, which I found to be so close but not quite sufficient to pull the trigger.

  • avatar
    deanst

    “ It wasn’t just a far more successful version of its direct rival, the Toyota Prius, which was 25 times more common in 2009 than in 2000, that limited the second Insight’s success.“

    What? I don’t understand. My head hurts….

  • avatar
    bubbajet

    Just bought a 2018 Accord Hybrid EX less than a month ago. It’s a spectacular car, better than I thought it would be. Yes, it’s a little (a lot) numb-feeling, but I was looking for the Mercedes-Benz cocoon type ride. This is it, with just a touch more road noise.

    My 2014 6-speed is more fun to drive and feels more connected to the road. I have a few gripes with this one (do they listen to the stereo before shipping it? Gawd.), but overall I’m extremely happy – and averaging 45.5 MPG or so in a large-ish sedan with a ginormous trunk. Drafting behind a semi on the freeway with adaptive cruise control, I can get 55+MPG all day long and it’s not lacking for power around town. It does sound odd, though, when the engine isn’t making noise that’s appropriate for what I’m doing.

    The new Insight ought to be just as good, although I think it uses a slightly different powertrain? I’d have definitely looked at the Insight if the timing had been better.

  • avatar
    mchan1

    With sales of sedans decreasing, it’s puzzling why Honda would want another hybrid sedan for sale.

    Where’s the hybrid models for the CR-V, Pilot, or Odyssey, considering that many of Honda’s competitors have the hybrid models for their SUV/CUV and minivans?

    If the hybrid CR-V is made, it’ll give Toyota competition for its hybrid Rav-4 or Nissan for its hybrid Rogue.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      My guess is that mileage regulations will force re-popularization of sedans and wagons at the expense of cuv’s and suv’s.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        You wish @brandloyalty. If anything the market will force the hybridization of high riders and the abandonment of sedans and wagons entirely. Honda stopped selling wagons before they even had a crossover for sale; Americans fell out of love with them nearly 30 years ago.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I’m not a real fan of recent Honda styling, but I guess the truly well-designed cars of the 80’s are never going to return. However, this is by far the best looking car of the entire line. Honda really should have made this the standard Civic and made the new boy-racer Civic the Civic GT or something equally different.

    But, judging by recent trends, this may be another Honda Hybrid Mistake(TM), again misjudging the market for hybrids and sedans. I agree with others, this really should have been a CUV.

  • avatar
    svan

    Long time reader. Came here to say I bought one of these, a Canadian- spec touring model.

    The drive is very good, the acceleration not memorable but very sufficient. Very good handling and feel. Non-Jetsons interior with a genuine volume knob. Hooray for all that.

    Plus it looks nothing like the gonzo civics.
    The white interior sure looks nice but I would get tired of it quick.

    If this were a CUV there is no chance I would have bought it. A hatch would have been good but it turns out the trunk is enormous. Trade off, it gets a very good sound system given the speaker placement in the rear window.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • gtem: It’s a problem to find ANYTHING remotely sporty in that tall narrow old school econobox size. Not even...
  • Superdessucke: Japanese and Korean makes are definitely sticking with the sedan and small car. I guess if FCA does...
  • Nick_515: Ok maybe not 30, but you’ve said on multiple occasions that your car does upper 20s on the highway,...
  • brettc: I had to buy a new set of winter tires for my C-Max. The previous owner included a set that was OEM sized at...
  • Dan: Electric torque really is luxurious. The downsides – which is to say the $15,000, 1500 pound battery pack...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States